Israel's daily newsmagazine
   Israel's daily newsmagazine
| home |   security |   politics |   diplomacy |   anti-semitism |   culture |   travel |   views | today's weblog  
Jewish-Christian relations


Sign up for free!


Isi Leibler , former head of the Australian Jewish community, now lives in Jerusalem. He was a leading personality in the movement to free Soviet Jewry and is a prolific writer on Jewish affairs.
Previous views
Divided, not defeated
The speech the WJC doesn't want its members to hear
Let's rethink how we fight Jew-hatred
Extremism - the greatest threat to our future
Don't take the Diaspora for granted
Stop the Kassam rockets now
Israeli and Diaspora Jews are not equal partners
Yasser Arafat's repeat performance
The UN - A home for the Jews?
Religious Zionism at the crossroads
Democracy or banana republic?
No ersatz unity government
Full circle in Berlin
Support disengagement
Europe faces its present
The demonization of Israel and Anti-Semitism
Blame the chaos on Sharon
Crossing the red lines
Jews contra Israel

More from Isi Leibler..

The Limits of Ecumenical Dialogue
By Isi Leibler   March 16, 2005

In these times we are surely obliged to forge new alliances. Our traditional friends of yesteryear -- the liberals and the left -- now stand at the forefront of campaigns to demonize and delegitimize Israel and increasingly indulge in outright anti Semitic rhetoric.

It is not coincidental that the Bush Administration -- which today stands alone between Israel and its foes -- has been strongly influenced by Christian evangelicals who continue to demand that American foreign policy be based on moral and biblical foundations. In stark contrast to the Presbyterians and the World Council of Churches who even now continue campaigning for divestment and delegitimization, the evangelicals have elevated support for the Jewish state as one of their top priorities.

Interdenominational activities have always been a sensitive issue. Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, the revered spiritual leader of modern orthodoxy, warned of the dangers of becoming involved in theological or interfaith dialogue both on halachic and pragmatic grounds. He predicted that such activities would invariably encourage false facades of supposed shared theological foundations.

Rabbi Soloveichik did approve of activities with other denominations to promote common humanitarian objectives. He would assuredly have endorsed relations with evangelicals based on support of Israel and common social goals as long as theological dialogue was avoided.

The relationship with the Catholic Church is more problematic. After Nostra Aetate led to a repudiation of charges of deicide against the Jewish people the International Jewish Committee on Inter-Religious Consultation (IJCIC) was created as an umbrella body for Jewish organizations liaising with the Vatican. Relations were intensified with the advent of Pope John Paul II who encouraged a softening of the traditional Catholic hostility against the Jewish state. However, as a rule, Orthodox rabbinical and lay leaders tended to distance themselves from this activity.

Over the past few years the World Jewish Congress bypassed IJCIC and began negotiating independently with the Catholic Church. A series of meetings with international Catholic prelates were held in New York in which progress was achieved in relation to the struggle against anti Semitism.

These initiatives began to assume a theological flavor as exemplified at the recent New York meeting, when Cardinal Angelo Scola informed the WJC gathering that "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- like the God of Jesus Christ, is the living God who is maintaining close and salvic relations with his people". Although well intentioned, such remarks crossed the line delineated by Rabbi Soloveichik.

Not surprisingly the centrist orthodox "Rabbinical Council of America" did not attend these meetings. It is therefore somewhat paradoxical that the main impetus for the new direction came from the WJC governing board chairman Israel Singer wearing his orthodox rabbinical hat. Even more surprising was that he was supported by the two ultra orthodox Rabbis closely associated with him in WJC activities -- Rabbi Bleich from the Ukraine and Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt from Moscow.

However, the most disconcerting aspect of the WJC relationship with the Catholics is the prominent role accorded to the Cardinal of Paris, Jean Marie Lustiger, who until his recent retirement was regarded as a possible candidate to become the next Pope.

Over the past two years, Cardinal Lustiger, a Jew who converted to Catholicism, has become a virtual World Jewish Congress icon. He was a major speaker at Governing Board and Executive meetings and, even more surprisingly, was selected to be the keynote speaker for the WJC Plenary Assembly held earlier this year in Brussels.

There is no doubt that Lustiger is sincerely committed to combating anti-Semitism in the Church and obviously enjoys representing the Church at Jewish and Jewish related activities. The Pope is clearly happy to use him in this capacity and even appointed him to be his personal representative at the 60th commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz in Warsaw.

However it is difficult to understand how an international Jewish body headed by an orthodox Jew using a rabbinical mantle, repeatedly invites Cardinal Lustiger to participate at gatherings of international Jewish leaders, ignoring the fact that Cardinal Lustiger is not just an enlightened Catholic prelate opposed to anti Semitism. He is an apostate, a Jew converted to Catholicism. More than that, Lustiger who speaks Yiddish, continues to describe himself as a Jew, albeit a "fulfilled Jew".

This in no way detracts from the fact that Lustiger is undoubtedly an honorable man, a victim of the Holocaust placed in safe keeping by his parents in a Catholic boarding school.

But having said that, it is surely still bizarre for an international Jewish body to elevate such a person to a leading role at Jewish gatherings. Repeatedly promoting an apostate demonstrates an utter lack of sensitivity to the chequered role in history assumed by Jewish converts to Christianity in relation to their own people.

In the past such situations were avoided. When the World Council of Churches nominated the Rev. Dr. Hans Ucko to be their liaison on Jewish affairs, IJCIC with the full support of the WJC, politely declined on the grounds that they did not wish to deal publicly with an intermediary who was an apostate. They would certainly never have considered him as a keynote speaker to an international Jewish meeting.

Now all of this is highly delicate. But whilst we are obliged to maintain cordial relations with the Catholic and other Churches they must understand that we Jews also share profound sensitivities.

There may be grounds for liaising privately with a man such as Cardinal Lustiger, but it is surely grotesque and crossing the line if Jews promote him as a role model. It is not only a matter of Jewish dignity. As Rabbi Soloveichik emphasized, we also need clarity regarding our end goals in relation to ecumenical activities. Otherwise one day we may even have some bright PR activists appealing for more Jews to convert in order to more effectively fight anti-Semitism.

Views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of israelinsider.

 Talk Back! Respond to this view

Click on the blue headline to read a Talkback comment and respond to it. Click on the icon to send a private email to the talkback writer. The icon appears only if the writer has decided to be contacted. If no popup window appears, please make sure your popup blocker allows

  | about |   partners |   sponsor |   donate |   news |   subscribe |   contact |